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Ratcliffe: Watford is the one

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Posted: Monday, July 22, 2013 9:30 pm | Updated: 9:23 pm, Wed Jul 24, 2013.

GREENSBORO, N.C. – When it comes to naming starting quarterbacks, coaches always have their own agendas.

While they usually know or at least have a good inkling about who will start, they hedge in the name of keeping practices competitive, keeping all candidates for the job sharp. Virginia’s Mike London is no different than the rest when it comes to this strategy.

During Monday’s interview session at the ACC Football Kickoff at Grandover resort, London said that he wants his staff to name a starting quarterback early in August training camp and go with it.

Let’s just do away with the suspense.

David Watford will be the starter when the Cavaliers open the season on Aug. 31 when BYU comes to town, and the following week when No. 5 Oregon visits Scott Stadium. If he isn’t, I’ll eat this column.

Something in the water

No offense to Greyson Lambert, the tall and talented redshirt freshman, whom we’re sure will be good, if not great, in his own time. But Watford gives Virginia something special: athleticism, speed, quickness, the ability to make something happen with his arm and his feet, and turn chicken feathers into chicken salad when things break down.

Watford, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound sophomore from Hampton, is another one of those quarterbacks from the “757” in search of greatness. You may have heard of a few of the others: Aaron Brooks, Michael Vick, Marques Hagans, Ronald Curry, Tyrod Taylor, E.J. Manuel, and Tajh Boyd.

They’ve all possessed something special, but mostly just raw athleticism that was often converted to magic on the gridiron.

Boyd, who should be a Heisman Trophy candidate at Clemson this season, is one rival who will be pulling hard for Watford except when the two teams clash on Nov. 2 in Charlottesville. Even then, the Tigers’ dual-threat QB will look across the field with pride in another Tidewater kid making good.

“I’m excited just to get a chance to watch him,” Boyd said Sunday about Watford. “I think for David, it’s all about him going out there and leading the guys. From what I hear, I know he’s got the respect of his teammates and I know he’s been putting in the work. Now, it’s all about him going out there and performing and not worrying about all the things that come with the game, but going out there and playing his style of game. You can’t really be anybody else… all you can do is be the type of player you are.

“If David does that, I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Boyd continued. “I just love the way the plays the game, the type of thrower he is and I know he can run the ball as well. I’m excited to watch him and how he helps UVa this season.”

It's been a minute

We haven’t really seen Watford in a real game since Nov. 26, 2011, when he got some mop up duty in a lopsided UVa loss to Virginia Tech. He was a true freshman thrust into playing time and really wasn’t quite ready for the task, although we saw flashes of brilliance with his scrambling ability at Indiana, against Southern Miss and Idaho.

Still, the kid who piled up more than 3,000 yards total offense his senior year for the Crabbers struggled with the college passing game, completing only 40.5 percent of his passes for 346 yards in 74 attempts (four picks, three TDs).

When former Alabama backup Phillip Sims transferred into UVa out of the blue a year ago and battled incumbent starter Michael Rocco for the quarterbacking job, London was overloaded with QBs. Something had to give and it did, big time.

Rocco became frustrated with the musical chairs rotation and transferred. Sims made it simpler, flunking out and displaying poor work habits.

A leader waiting in the wings

All the while, Watford had redshirted his sophomore season, hoping to break through sometime in his remaining three years of eligibility. All the while, Watford kept his mouth shut, as London put it, never complained, moaned, whined about his turn of fortune.

“David wanted to do what was best for the team,” London said Monday. “He worked out, lifted, ran, studied. I mean, you come into the McCue Center and he’s there at 7 or 8 o’clock at night watching film, or organizing 7-on-7’s.”

The Navy Seals have a group that visit football programs for two days of grueling workouts and assess (without asking coaches for any insight) who the leaders are on the team.

“After the first day, [the Seals] said this guy, David Watford, is one of your best leaders,” London said Monday.

According to sources, Sims didn’t even bother to show up for the second day of those workouts.

London already knew what the Seals found out. He had the team vote on who they felt the model leaders on the team were. Watford emerged No. 1. Lambert, by the way, was 10th.

“Over the course of having to deal with playing, sitting, watching, studying and getting better, [Watford] became a great teammate and a great leader,” London said.

One trick pony?

So, we know Watford can run like the wind as a quarterback. Senior tackle Morgan Moses said it is amazing watching Watford run.

“He just kind of glides through the air,” Big Mo chuckled in amazement.

But can he pass?

Of course, the big thing with the growth of any quarterback on any level is the natural maturation, the thing coaches refer to when they say the game has slowed down for so-and-so. It’s a cool, a calm, a confidence in not only knowing one’s own offense, but how to read coverages, beat defenses. It’s endless film study and precision passing that comes from practicing throwing into imaginary windows, timing, developing that sixth sense before galloping out of trouble.

“The ultimate evaluation for anybody who plays is going to be in that first game against a very good team in BYU,” London said. “All the other attributes of a guy who hasn’t played a lot of games, he has to have that confidence, has that ability to throw and run, use his legs, which presents a formidable challenge for defenses.”

London admits those first two games for UVa are “huge,” in his words. BYU and Oregon, what a way to start an eight-game home season. If Scott Stadium is packed and the Cavaliers pull off an upset win in the opener, who knows what kind of momentum can build.

With a quarterback who is capable of producing some magical moments with his arm and legs, who knows what could happen. Even though UVa talks about power football, don’t think for a minute the Cavaliers aren’t going to take advantage of Watford’s quickness with some kind of read option (after all, Larry Lewis learned the “Pistol” offense from its creator at Nevada last year).

“Our approach is you can control the destiny of how you are perceived by the way you play and we want to play well enough to win,” London said of the first two games. “That’s all our players think about (those two games).”

Like Tajh Boyd, we’re excited to see what a more mature and seasoned Watford brings to the table.

It could be magical.

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